Pawnbroker ordinance amendment passed

by Chari Sutherland

It was standing-room only at the April 6 commission meeting.  Many small business owners were in attendance to protest a proposed amendment to an ordinance governing pawnbrokers. 

The amendment, proposed by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department (ACCPD), will require all pawnbrokers to begin using an electronic ticketing system, to hold items an additional 20 days before allowing them to be sold and to require customers to show picture identification before pawning items. 

 During public comments, Lori Reeves, of the Athens Pawn Shop, asked that the commission vote no on the amendment.  “This (amendment) will bring dramatic changes for the livelihood of at least a dozen small businesses,” she said.  She said the current ordinance is sufficient.  “Most of the stolen property is sold on the streets by criminals, not in pawnshops.”  Perry Reeves said many of their customers repeatedly pawn the same items just to get some extra money, then return to pick up the items. 

Though his business has required that customers show identification for forty-two years, Reeves was concerned about customers losing more confidentiality.    

The amendment was suggested in writing by Chief of Police, Joseph Lumpkin, on February 4.  In his detailed report to the commissioners, he requested that pawnbrokers “electronically report their transactions on a daily basis rather than by weekly paper document.”  The report also said Georgia law authorizes the police department to request such a change.  Lumpkin also wrote in the report that there has been an increase in burglaries in the last three years, with small electronics being the most common items stolen.  

ACCPD will be able to track items received in pawnshops from their headquarters through an internet database, rather than sending a detective out to collect copies of pawn tickets and manually looking through all of them.  In November, there were 1,549 paper pawn tickets, according to Lumpkin’s report.

On the opposite side of the issue, many pawnbrokers complained at the commission meeting that new regulations will make their work more tedious.  Thornton said being required to take a picture and write a detailed description of each piece of jewelry will require more time.   He said that official should consider that many of the dealers take in only certain types of jewelry, so there will often be over 100 individual and identical pieces of jewelry.  “A lot of things not adequately thought out,” he said. 

“I’m not thrilled about having to spend one to two more hours a day meeting new guidelines,” said Dale Duncan of Duncan’s Fine Jewelry on Atlanta Highway.   He said some dealers may have to spend about 30 minutes more on an item just to enter it into the system. 

“This will cause people who do a large portion of buying to probably do illegal things,” he said.  “They may be a day or two late entering their information or not enter it at all.”  To comply may require longer days or adding more labor, which will raise the dealer’s costs. 

All pawnbrokers were concerned about financing the new system.  Joe Thornton of Thornton’s Pawn Center on Lexington Avenue said the pawnbrokers weren’t given enough time to look over the proposed changes to the ordinance.  “You’re putting a financial burden on store owners,” he told the commission.  “The proposal doesn’t specify equipment we’d have to use.  We need more understanding of what’s being required.”

Lori Reeves said the extra $25 registration fee required each year and a $25 precious metal license for dealers that sell precious metals is “over and above what we already pay in (business license) fees.”

Though the commission did not specifically address the concerns about the extra fees or having to implement equipment/services (computer, digital camera and internet service) that some dealers may not already have, it was pointed out that ACCPD will purchase the software system for $11,000 through the police department’s general fund budget.  

Commissioner Kelly Girtz said Chief Lumpkin’s request for the amendment “is judious”.  “I think this is going to bring us in line with the state and allow us to communicate with other jurisdictions as well.” 

Girtz motioned to approve the amendment.  It was seconded and all commissioners voted in favor. 

With the passing of this ordinance amendment, ACCPD joins police departments of Alpharetta, Cartersville, Cobb County and Gwinnett County in requiring an electronic recording system.  Chief Lumpkin’s report said, “These agencies report that electronic pawn reporting has improved efficiency and enabled the agencies to recover stolen property while identifying burglary suspects on a regular basis.” 

Now approximately a month until the May 24 deadline of full implementation, Thornton’s Pawn Center isn’t yet prepared for the change.  “I haven’t started implementing any of it and I won’t until May first,” Joe Thornton said.

Today at Athens Pawn, owner Perry Reeves isn’t close to being ready.  Since he’s still using handwritten tickets, he doesn’t own a computer or have internet access.  Dale Duncan at Duncan’s Fine Jewelry said he’s logged onto the site and registered to use it.

The Merging Music Monster

What do you get when you combine the nation’s largest ticketing company with the nation’s biggest concert promoter? Answer: the  monster of the music industry and a town of unhappy music lovers.

In February of 2009, Live Nation and Ticketmaster began negotiations for a merger between the two giants, essentially creating one monster company called Live Nation Entertainment that combined their ticketing, marketing, data centers and back-offices, according to their press release.

“The companies will be combined in a tax-free, all-stock merger of equals with a combined enterprise of $2.5 billion…Live Nation and Ticketmaster shareholders will each own approximately 50 percent of the combined company,” the press release read.

On January 25, 2010 the United States Department of Justice finally approved the merger between the two competitors, thus creating a huge monopoly being forced upon the music industry, concert-goers and music fans.

“The merger, as originally proposed, would have substantially lessened competition for primary ticketing in the United States, resulting in higher prices and less innovation for consumers,” as read in the Department of Justice’s announcement.

With Athens being the music town that it is, this monster merger may cause problems for many of the local music halls and music lovers.

“It’s never a good thing when there’s a monopoly in any field. When there’s no competition, they can do whatever they want,” said Savannah Weeks, a 21-year-old Music Business student at the University of Georgia.

The central argument for the opposers  of the merger stand by the fact that concert-goers have no choice but to pay the prices and fees set forth by Live Nation Entertainment to see their favorite musicians. They have no legitimate alternative to turn to if they are unsatisfied with or overcharged by this ticketing conglomerate.

“I wanted to go to the Coldplay show this summer, but the tickets were $30, a $20 parking fee, a $13 convenience charge and there may have been another venue fee. I just couldn’t afford it,” said Weeks. “I feel like the real victim is unfortunately the music fan.”

Music venues in Athens have opted to use other ways of selling tickets online, so they don’t support the monopoly at hand.

“ We don’t use Ticketmaster for this exact reason,” said Lewis Brown, senior music business major and employee of New Earth Music Hall on West Dougherty Street. “We want to help out the little guy, not the monster who is eating up all our money.”

Lexi Irvin, senior music business major and employee of the 40 Watt on West Washington Street agrees.

“ The merger is really putting a damper on the shows that I’m able to go see,” said Irvin. “It’s not really affecting the small local shows here, but the big name shows in Atlanta is where prices really increase and the customer can see their money being practically stolen from them, service fee after service fee.”

Many customers were not even aware of the merger or where their money was going, but did notice the price increase.

“I had no idea this was going on,” said Eliza McArthur, senior sociology major. “ I just bought a My Morning Jacket ticket from Ticketmaster and their Website said nothing about this. But my ticket price did rise from $45 to $60 after all the charges had been added on to it. It’s ridiculous.”

For now, music fans and lovers alike will have to join the monster if they can’t beat him.

Most funds for mayor campaigns come from donors outside of Athens

            It takes money to make money. In this case it takes money to run for mayor of Athens.  But where exactly does the money come from?

            The five hopefuls who have officially announced their candidacy for mayor of Athens are Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Nancy Denson, Athens Area Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Spencer Frye, retired state labor official and pastor Charlie Maddox, and students Glenn Stegall and Brandon Shinholser.

            Thus far, the candidates have raised a combined $72, 084; however, figures from recent reports show two clear leaders emerging: Denson and Frye.

            Denson currently leads the money race, with a total of $29, 552. She credits this large amount to donations of all sizes from members of the community.  But they are not the only ones supporting Denson.

            Quite a few of her contributors in this past quarter are not local at all. Documents from that last quarter reveal that five of the donors are from a state other than Georgia and that another seven are from cities other than Athens.

            This is only out of 30 contributors, and ends up being less than half. The percentage does not seem very significant, but the financial impact is. These 12 donors contributed to over half of Denson’s full amount for the past quarter.

            Their donations reached a sum of $10,107, which is 53 percent of the total amount collected from Jan. 1 to March 31 of this year, $19,070. The two largest single contributions came from two people who do not live in Georgia. Both donated $2,400 to support Denson in her campaign.

            Why are individuals in Cedar Hill, Texas and Waymart, Pa. contributing to a campaign for mayor of Athens? Ga.?

            They could be individuals who have residences in both Athens and their respective other towns. They could also be extremely interested and active in the politics of Athens, Ga., but that does not seem very realistic.

            Most likely they are friends and family members of Denson and are contributing to support her in her campaign, and there is nothing wrong with that right?

            Well except for the fact that Denson was quoted in the Athens Banner Herald saying, “I feel like I’m getting extremely good support from the community, some I haven’t expected.” Denson is right that she is getting extremely good support, only recently most of it’s coming from members outside of the community.

            Using numbers from the past quarter, on average a contributor from Athens gave Denson approximately $498, a contributor from a city other than Athens gave about $571, and a contributor from a state other than Georgia gave on average a $1,200.

            The above calculations do not take into account the amount of wealth or the economic status of the other cities and states. Yet, it definitely says something when a mayoral candidate is getting more than half of her most recent contributions from places other than the very community in which she is running in.

            But this is not only happening in Denson’s campaign. Frye, who collected the second most this past quarter with a total of $10,883, has had many contributors from people outside of the Athens area as well.

            Documents show that of Frye’s 30 recent contributors, 12 are from cities other than Athens and another three are from states other than Georgia. While he raised a little over half of the amount that Denson raised, well over half of his contributions came from individuals with addresses outside of Athens.

            Sixty-eight percent of Frye’s contributions came from donors who do not reside in Athens. According to numbers from the most recent quarter, on average donors in Athens gave $264, donors in other cities gave $533.33 and donors in other states gave $487.50. These amounts are less than amounts from Denson’s various donors, but the 68 percent of total contributions cannot be ignored.

            Like Denson, Frye’s largest single contribution was $2,400 and came from a recording studio in Atlanta. Which again, poses the question of why a recording studio in Atlanta would care about a mayoral election in Athens?

            Denson and Frye came in well ahead of their competitors this quarter for total amount of contributions, but through their use of outside contributions are they setting a pace that is unfair to their competitors? Furthermore, what does it say, when the support they receive from outside areas exceeds the support each has from the place they hope to lead one day and call home?

Cigarette Litter Receptacle Proven Effective Against Littering

It’s green. It’s rectangular. It’s undeniably chic — and it’s what’s keeping cigarette butts off the streets of downtown, Athens. These artistically designed boxes are called Cigarette Litter Receptacle, better known as CLR.

Forty CLRs have been installed on parking meters as well as on light poles in pilot areas of downtown, according to the Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Department.

The CLRs were created to give smokers a place to dispose their used cigarettes.

“A baseline count found 6, 207 butts on the sidewalk and in the gutters along bars and restaurants near West Washington, West Clayton, and North Lumpkin streets before street-sweepers came early in the morning to clear them away”, stated Blake Aued in his article for the Athens Banner-Herald.

“Thanks to the CLRs, a four month study in the city indicated that cigarette trash was reduced up to 54 percent,” said Rachael Widener, technology manager at The University of Georgia.

“In general, we saw reductions each time we did the scans,” Stacee Farrell, executive director of Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful, told the Athens Banner Herald.

According to the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program (CLPP), if cigarette butts remain on the ground and are not disposed of properly, it can cause some damage economically as well as environmentally.

The CLPP states that cigarette butt litter creates blight which accumulates in gutters and outside doorways and bus shelters. This is an issue because, according to the CLPP, it “creates a sense that no one cares, leading to more community disorder and crime.”  It also pollutes the water and can harm wildlife.

About 18 percent of litter, traveling primarily through storm water systems, ends up in local streams, rivers and waterways, according to the CLPP.

The idea for the receptacles came forth when indoor smoking was banned in 2005, according to the Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Department,

“The design of the CLRs was a joint effort of Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful, the Athens-Clarke County government’s stormwater division and public information office, the Tobacco Prevention Coalition, the Athens Downtown Development Authority, and the Athens Design Development program”, Diana Hartle told the Athens Banner-Herald.

“Our CLR is a very sturdy litter receptacle designed for busy urban areas.  There is a stub-out grate on the interior of the slot.  The cigarette is stubbed out and just dropped in,” said Didi Dunphy, one of the designers of the CRL for the Athens Design Development.

“The CLR holds a good volume of trash at which time of being full can be emptied,” said Dunphy.  “The pivot mechanism allows for the receptacle to spin down and the contents emptied into whatever trash bag or other trash unit.”

Dunphy adds that the receptacle is approximately 256 cubic inches in volume capacity and the design helps keep the disposed contents dry.

Thus far, the CLR has received two awards. The first award was for first place in the State Litter Prevention category and the second was for a second place National Award for “outstanding efforts to engage individuals in the implementation of the National Cigarette Litter Prevention Program,” according to the CLR website.

“As a downtown resident, I have definitely noticed a difference since the receptacles have been in place,” said Kelly Girtz, District 9 Commissioner. “Areas that have them installed seem cleaner by far.”

New Parking Meters: Follow-Up

 It’s been nearly a month since a new parking meter system was introduced in the downtown area between Lumpkin and Thomas Streets, and officials have now finally begun to enforce ticketing for those who overstay their welcome.

Athens residents will have to make sure they feed the new “pay-and-display” parking meters, or face a ticket. But at least now they can pay them online.

It still remains to be seen whether these machines, part of a year-long pilot program spearheaded by the Athens Downtown Development Authority (ADDA), will solve all of the issues that many UGA students complain about, such as there not being enough parking spaces downtown.

 One issue that the switch to the pay-and-display meters remedies is outdated technology, said Laura Miller, Director of Street Parking Operations for the ADDA. According to her, the new machines improve on many of the limitations of the old technology, allowing for greater customer convenience.

“The old single-space meters are 25-30 years old,” Miller said. “The newer technology provides a couple of benefits. One, for example, is that your receipt simply goes in your windshield, so you can move and park somewhere else without paying again.”

Currently, the pay-and-display machines can be found only between Lumpkin and Thomas Streets. Because this is a pilot program for the ADDA, the old parking meters throughout the rest of downtown have not yet been replaced. Residents, however, may soon be seeing these meters everywhere.

“We have a contract with Parkeon, European manufacturing company, now based in Morristown, NJ,” Miller said. “If things go well eventually these machines will be all over downtown.”

But have these new machines fixed any underlying parking issues in downtown Athens, such as limited UGA student parking? This remains to be seen, Miller said, but they certainly give citizens more payment options. In fact, online payment for monthly parking fees and citations is now accepted through the ADDA website.

“These machines also provide three payment methods,” she said. “Dollar bills, credit and debit, and of course, coins. This is an improvement from before, when it was only coins.” The maximum amount of time residents may use the pay-and-display machines at a given time is two hours, but Miller said most residents do not even come close to reaching the limit.

“It will take a little over a year, but we’re already getting lots of good data,” Miller said. “We know, for example, that the mean duration of parking at these meters is roughly 75 minutes—just over the amount of time it takes for a student to park, head to class, and quickly run back.”

Miller estimates that it will take a full year for the ADDA to evaluate the effectiveness of these machines. She said that the main criteria of success will be improving the ease of issuing citations, and convenience to residents.

“Sunny” Day in ACC Government

Sometimes, in order to make your government a better place, all you have to do is ask.

Students from the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism conducted an open records audit of Athens-Clarke County during the month of March. Students went to government offices and requested specific records like business licenses, police records, and minutes from board meetings. The class also conducted an audit of some University records including police incident records, employment contracts, and yearly budgets.
The audit was conducted through the Georgia Student Sunshine Audit program in conjunction with the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. The GFAF aims to advance “the cause of open government and freedom of information through education and advocacy.” Those who might be concerned about ACC transparency need not worry, the government agencies passed the test with a few minor exceptions. In a few cases, the records requested did not exist or required extra time to find. Most of the students had little difficulty in obtaining the physical records, though getting over their fears proved hard.

“The procedure to attain records always seemed intimidating to me,” wrote Grady student Zhiyang Yu, “but now that I’ve actually placed a request, I’ve got more confidence to procure these things in the future.”

The process can seem intimidating but citizens of Georgia have the right to request documentation from their governments.

Suha Zakiuddin knew more about the Freedom of Information Act than the officials handling the annual budget did.
“I learned that not everyone knows what the FOI act is all about,” wrote Zakiuddin. “In my experience, the person I spoke to needed help because he never had a records request before.”

The record handlers did not turn over information at all in the only complete request failure.

“I’ve requested records for stories in the past and never had a problem getting them,” wrote Robert Carnes, “but here I was unable to procure a copy or even see the original.”

“Sunshine” laws are open record laws set in place in order to promote openness between the government and the people. The laws stem from the Freedom of Information Act signed by President Johnson in 1966 and amended by President Clinton in 1996. The basic principal behind the laws places most of the responsibility for the records on the government. Specific documents must be filed correctly and be readily available for any citizen who requests them, not just journalists. If the record keepers refuse, citizens can write a letter describing the law that allows them to request such papers and why it is the government organization’s duty to turn them over. The state of Georgia is often considered to have one of the most lenient open record laws in the United States.

Before the students asked for the records, they were briefed by a representative from the GFAF on how to remain under the radar and not appear like they were conducting an audit. Students were encouraged to dress nicely but not mention they were students. Under the open records laws, one does not have to mention what their occupation is, their name, or even what they want the records for. The audit was used as an exercise for journalism students to learn how to request records easily. But the general public could benefit from this knowledge too, say Grady professors.

Open records are vital to a journalist’s job, says Grady College professor Barry Hollander. The general public does not ask for these types of records often but they need to know that they are available at any time, he said. Hollander pointed out a recent local case where Hustler Magazine requested the crime scene photos of a murdered University of Georgia graduate. The Senate and the House passed bills to prohibits the release of the photos depicting the headless body along with other lewd crime-scene photos and recordings from 911 calls that include suffering victims.
“Larry Flynt, merely by asking for them, and the idea that they might be in Penthouse was enough to make the legislature to overreact and close something that has always been open record,” he said. “What if there’s a suspicious death? And a journalist comes along and wonders ‘Maybe this person was killed by deputies or someone with power enough to get it closed.’ If you can no longer get the autopsy and images, it’s very hard to investigate and challenge the government’s decision on that case.”

By auditing the local government, the Grady students hope that it will keep ACC records open and available to the public. Not just because records are handy to have, but because it’s the law.

Program uses sports to reach underprivileged kids

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Well, sometimes when it does, it finds its way back.

Ben Farnsworth grew up all over. The son of a minister, his family moved from his birthplace in Greenville, SC to St. Louis, MO. He followed his father Hal’s ministry to college towns like Nashville, TN and Starkville, MS. Regardless of where he was growing up, he found himself in the church. But after graduating from Presbyterian College in 2003, Farnsworth didn’t immediately enter into the family business.

“I went off to build houses,” said Farnsworth. “I left a lot behind – including the church.” Farnsworth says he enjoyed that time, saying he didn’t need things like “money, possessions and girls.” But unfortunately, it didn’t work out.

“It was a long crazy journey,” said Farnsworth. “But I came back to the church.”

Farnsworth, now 30, is the Executive Director of Downtown Ministries in Athens. The ministry began as a sports program in 2003 as a part of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, also in Athens. It separated from Redeemer to become its own non-profit entity nearly two and a half years ago.

 “Everyone involved [in the ministry] decided that the need was so great, that it didn’t need to be just a Redeemer thing. It needed to be an Athens thing. We needed help from other churches and other people in the community,” said Farnsworth.

Beginning as a single team in 2003, the Downtown Falcons expanded to two teams the following year. Today the program boasts four footballs teams, four basketball teams, four cheerleading squads and even a drum line.

Located in the heart of downtown Athens, Redeemer has always served a diverse community. Ben’s father, Hal Farnsworth, is the Senior Minister at Redeemer. He was one of the original program workers who saw sports as a great way to reach children in lower-income areas.

 “People in housing projects like Parkview [near downtown Athens] aren’t in our natural sphere of congregation members,” said Hal Farnsworth. “But sports bring all walks of life together. That’s how the football team started.”

Ben Farnsworth was not a founding member of the program. After returning to Athens, a friend asked if he would be interested in coaching a football team. Having played football is his high school days at Clarke Central, Farnsworth agreed.

“I had a job,” said Ben Farnsworth. “But everyday I woke up and asked God how this was a part of his plan. I didn’t have a hobby – just trying to figure life out. So I started coaching.”

Ben Farnsworth recalls his first few months of coaching. He was struck by the story of one of the children on his very first team. Wanting to make a difference in the young boy’s life, Ben asked him out to dinner. Farnsworth said that was all it took.

 “This was when I really decided I was happy with [coaching],” said the younger Farnsworth. “I just couldn’t stop thinking about the kids!”

Farnsworth and others continued to expand the program. In the words of Ben Farnsworth, it continued to be “a great avenue to enter into [the kids’] whole living situation” and an opportunity to “speak truth into [childrens’] live through the realm of sports.” Yet, there is more to the program off the field.

Downtown Falcons, as the program is sometimes called, also offers tutoring opportunities for the children involved. At least once a week (oftentimes more), Redeemer offers its warehouse to Downtown Ministries as a site for the tutoring program. According to their website, the children play scrabble and other board games to improve verbal, math and social skills. The children are also encouraged to keep a journal to improve their writing skills. Sessions typically conclude with a meal.

 Redeemer, still tied with Downtown ministries, is not the only organization that offers a helping hand to Ben Farnsworth and the rest of the program. Farnsworth says the local chapter of the Boys and Girls club has teamed with the Athens Housing Authority to provide buses for transportation to practices and games.

 Farnsworth is happy that the community as a whole has seen the need to come together and provide for whoever needs it – not just those involved in their respective programs.

“They came to us,” said Ben Farnsworth, referring to the help offered to his program. “It’s not a competition thing. We’re all on the same team.”

 Looking to the future, the younger Farnsworth hopes his ministry continues to grow and help the people of Athens. He is very appreciative toward those that have offered their time and services. Farnsworth is also proud of the service and assistance provided by the local government in Athens. However, Ben Farnsworth seems convinced that it is the smaller non-profit organizations that are able to provide the most personal and worthwhile support.

“If we really want to change the city of Athens, the government can’t do it all by itself,” said Ben Farnsworth. “It can help, but the government usually acts strictly as a band aid [for problems.] A band aid on the jugular won’t do much. The only way to really change Athens is by people entering the community and truly investing their lives for legitimate change.”

It may have taken a few years and a couple of career moves, but Ben Farnsworth seems to have found his true calling. Farnsworth seems primed to continue his work for Downtown Ministries, offering genuine and personal services to the people that need it most.